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Improvement district push on

FARGO - Crumbling curbs and poorly repaired concrete. Sidewalks speckled with discarded chewing gum and other stains. Those images and more now greet visitors to Fargo's downtown, but a business improvement district could change that, say Mike Ha...

FARGO - Crumbling curbs and poorly repaired concrete.

Sidewalks speckled with discarded chewing gum and other stains.

Those images and more now greet visitors to Fargo's downtown, but a business improvement district could change that, say Mike Hahn and Steve Stoner.

Hahn, CEO of the Fargo-Moorhead Downtown Community Partnership, and Stoner, the organization's chairman, hope to sell property owners on an improvement district by making sure they are onboard from the start.

The first step will be a series of 13 public meetings between now and early May in various downtown neighborhoods.

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One aim of the meetings will be to determine which services businesses feel are needed. By services, Hahn and Stoner mean services above and beyond those already provided by the city.

Speaking to members of The Forum's editorial board Tuesday, Stoner said the meetings will also gauge how much support there is for additional services, which property owners in the district would have to pay for.

In cities that have business improvement districts, the cost per property is determined in different ways, usually involving building square footage or property value, or a combination of both.

In Helena, Mont., there is a flat annual fee of $400, plus 2 cents per square foot of building space, according to information from the Downtown Community Partnership.

Stoner said if local support is identified, a proposal would be created containing details and costs. That information would be presented at a second round of 13 meetings.

That approach "lets the neighborhoods have control," Stoner said.

In the mid-1990s, an attempt was made to put together a list of services businesses were willing to pay for, but it failed when it fell just shy of the 60 percent approval it needed from participating properties.

Stoner and Hahn said the latest plan, with its emphasis on grass-roots support, will be shaped by businesses that would benefit from an improvement district.

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They said the City Commission would have to give its OK before any improvement district is set up and a plan could be stopped if 30 percent or more of properties in a proposed district oppose it.

If approved, an improvement district would have to go through a renewal process every five years.

Stoner and Hahn expect some opposition to the idea, but they also anticipate support.

Hahn said he receives an email or phone call about twice a month from a user of downtown complaining about things like snow removal, pigeon droppings and trash rolling in the streets.

"These things are being seen," he said.

Stoner said in cities that already have improvement districts, it is not unusual for neighborhoods to ask to be included in a district once the benefits become apparent.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Dave Olson at (701) 241-5555

I'm a reporter and a photographer and sometimes I create videos to go with my stories.

I graduated from Minnesota State University Moorhead and in my time with The Forum I have covered a number of beats, from cops and courts to business and education.

I've also written about UFOs, ghosts, dinosaur bones and the planet Pluto.

You may reach me by phone at 701-241-5555, or by email at dolson@forumcomm.com
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